Friday, January 20, 2006

sullen and forlorn

Elizabeth, a close friend, and I met up in front of the Barnes & Noble at Union Square, our ususal rendezvous place, for lunch today. She had just returned from a two week research trip in the West Bank and Israel yesterday and was in the area for a few days before returning to John Hopkins tomorrow. With this brief window of opportunity before us, we met.

It's fair to say, I think, that before anything else it is our common passion for travel and adventure that unites us and that set the basis for our friendship. Indeed, it was in this very spirit that we first met at the 2003 Watson conference, which happened to take place at Colorado College that year. We, like all the Watson fellowship recipients, share a curiosity of the world that I think only we and like-minded spirits can appreciate fully, which is why the annual conference is such a unique and meaningful experience for the fellows. Over the course of about 3 days, the fellows, who only a week or two earlier had returned to the US after a complete year abroad, talked about and shared their research projects and experiences with their peers and members of the Watson organization. For me, it was a remarkable three days, because whereas we each had to explain in meticulous detail to our family and friends the reasons for why the Watson Fellowship appealed to us at all, such explaining was unnecessary to our fellow Watson mates. Although each of us had different foci during that year abroad, we shared the same kind of gusto and independent spirit that made us know the Watson challenge would be just the thing that we were searching for. Yes, we graduated from different colleges in different cities and came from various social and economic backgrounds, but we shared a special feeling, a feeling which made us know in our guts when we first learned about the Watson that it was made exactly for folks likes us. (Click here to learn about the Watson Fellowship.)

Of course, then, during lunch today travel as ususal was a major topic of discussion. I was eager to hear about her research and experiences in the Middle East, which I found to be most interesting. Her usual radiance and excitement was so evident when she talked. She's very passionate about her interests and that is one of the great characteristics that I love about her. I was very happy to learn that her trip was such a success, but when later in the discussion I was asked about my own future travel plans I became sullen. As I mentioned in an earlier post, travel is a passion of mine. After the Watson, I caught the travel bug and have been unable to let it go ever since. I love to travel. I miss it deeply and when I reflect about my own plans that I have dreamt about and labored towards for over two years, I become saddened about fadded memories and lost opportunities. I had planned to travel the globe alone for at least 9 months beginning a few months after my graduation in June 2006 and during the past 2 years I have worked during the summer months and while at school in part to save towards the fulfillment of this dream of mine. Honestly, I had few tangible ideas about what I'd do after the completion of those 9 glorious months abroad, but that didn't matter to me. It was the traveling that mattered. It felt to be all that was worth fighting for in this world. Even now, people ask me about my intention to return to Chicago for graduate school. Of course, I want to return there in order to study what I enjoy and to complete my degree, but my love for school can in no way compare with my love for the road. I must confess that my thoughts about school and any future career have waivered at times during the past few months, but not my yearning to just strap on a knapsack and go. And what makes it all the more hurtful is that it has been this dream more than anything - graduate school, God, love, even family - which has sustained my hope when all looks dark and grey. How does one garner the strength to endure when their dream continues to be pushed back farther and farther? It's this very dream, which cancer is trying so fiercely to thwart and eventually crush. I feel so impotent, but what can I do but continue to "keep my eyes on the prize."

So, it was in this frame of mind that I found myself when Elizabeth asked me about my own travel plans. Nowhere I replied. After we parted, I went to my beloved Cafe Dante for a Caffe Moka, where I tried to read as I enjoyed my coffee but I found it difficult in the beginnning. I sat at the table struggling to free myself from the sullen, depressed mood in which I found myself. I too felt guilty for being so glum in the presence of my friend. I had only a few precious hours with a marvelous friend and yet, I couldn't hold myself together. I wasn't mad at her. Like I said, I was very pleased to know that she was still on the road harboring that great unquenchable Watson spirit. It was I who was unable to handle emotionally the hand that I had been dealt. I was upset with myself and my own feelings of impotence, forlornness, and yes even a little jealousy. To make matters worse, as I walked from the subway station to the cafe and observed the people seemingly beautiful, healthy, and carefree, I started to think about the unattractiveness of my lost hair, the love relationships never realized, and the medical bills that greet me every day in the mailbox. One negative thought led to another quickly and before I knew it, all my worries had enveloped me in a dark shroud. As I drank the delicious coffee and began to get drawn further and further into my book, Intimate Friends: Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, William Cullen Bryant the shroud started to loosen off my body though it never fell off.

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